A Born Again Dashboarder’s Top Ten Widgets

by Chris Howard Jul 31, 2006

First off, I must say I have over time become a born again Dashboard user. I used it briefly when it came out but then lost interest in it.  Eventually that changed once I found some widgets that were useful to me. For anyone not using Dashboard, don’t give up on it, there will probably be some widgets out there somewhere for you. You’ve just got to find the widgets that have value for you.

One other thing that made the Dashboard more usable for me was to change my laptop’s function keys so their default action is F1-F12, rather than things such as adjusting brightness, contrast, volume, and most importantly, CD eject which was using the Dashboard’s function key (F12). For anyone interested, this setting is in the Keyboard settings of the Keyboard & Mouse preferences. Just tick the checkbox next to “Use the F1-F12 keys to control software features”

Here’s my top ten widgets (in no particular order) since I’ve become a born again Dashboarder:

iCal Events

iCal has an annoying habit of coming to the fore when you click on alarm. Therefore, I usually don’t have iCal running. Instead, to quickly and easily see a list of my up coming appointments, I use the iCal Events widget. Configurable options are: The number of days in advance to show (I use 8, which I find works without overflowing my screen); and the calendars to show.

Netspace Usage Monitor

If your ISP limits your monthly usage, a usage monitoring widget is essential. If you’re wondering why mine says 106% - that’s because I went over my limit this month downloading too many Linux distros (and that is an article to watch for - unless you like Linux…)

Weather Australia (Forecast)

For the fellow Aussies, this os a weather forecast widget that is accurate - well not in terms of the forecast, but it uses official Australian weather bureau figures - unlike the default widget that comes with OS X, which can vary significantly.

Degrees Down Under

Australian Bureau of Meteorology weather information. Much more accurate than the one included with OS X. This one just displays the current temperature. The previous one only the forecast. If anyone creates a widget that displays current and forecast tempertures for Australia (using the Bureau’s records), let me know.

iPhoto Mini

I have this widget for one simple reason - to display a random photo each time I visit Dashboard. I like that.


Mainly there for a bit of fun, gives a new word, quote and joke each day. And check the design - it has to be the best looking widget going around.

Daily word

Another word of the day widget. As a writer, I find these useful. This one lets you select the source from more than half a dozen, including wordsmith.org, a medical dictionary and standard dictionaries.

Designer’s Toolbox

I found this one the other day and it’s kicked off the idea for this review. It’s one I won’t use a lot but has some very handy functions, especially for designers. It is also one of the nicest designed widgets I’ve used. Functions it includes are:
- Calculate image sizes. Enter two of DPI, pixels or millimetres to find out the third
- Unit converter. Enter one of millimetres, centimetres, inches, PS points, Didot points or Pica points to calculate the other five
- Download/upload time calculator. Enter a file size and connection speed to show an estimated download/upload time
- Dummy text generator. Generates dummy text in the common “Lorem ipsum” form.
- HTML obscure codes. Anyone working with HTML will love this one. It gives a list of more than 40 HTML codes for everything from symbols © ™ to fractions ½ ¼ to superscripts ¹ ² to cursor keys ← ↑ → ↓
- Pixels to ems converter. Another for web page designers, allows conversion of pixels to ems or vice versa.

Page Rank Generator

For anyone with a blog or website who wants to know their Google page rank (which affects how high your page appears in Google searches) this is a handy little widget. Rankings vary from zero to 10, with a higher number being better. Interestingly, Apple’s is 10 while Microsoft’s is 9 and Dell’s is 8.

Widsense (Adsense stats)

If you’ve got an Adsense account, this widget shows you stats from the last three days on your page views, clicks and income. Note: the figures in the above image are fictitious.

Apple widgets
The clock widget is the widget that got me using Dashboard. For a long time I forgot that Dashboard existed because I had no reason to visit it. Then, as things progressed with my writing on Apple Matters, it became necessary for me to know the time in Boston for things such as deadlines, and to know what time it was before I started annoying Hadley on iChat. Once I started using Dashboard’s clock, then I started to think more about other widgets I might use less often, and from there things snowballed to the present time with my screen quite full of widgets. It only takes one widget to turn around your non-use of Dashboard.

Besides the clock, other standard Apple widgets I use are the calendar, language translator and calculator.

It’s always interesting when someone does a list of their favorite widgets. I find two things:
1) Their list is nothing like your own. In fact none of these widgets are in the Dashboard Top 50 and only one, iPhoto Mini is on Aaron Wright’s list from a couple of months ago.
2) There’s always at least one you’ve never heard of that you think is worth checking out. For example, that list of Aaron’s is when I first heard of iPhoto Mini

Hopefully someone finds something useful among this lot, and if you aren’t a Dashboard user, I hope something on it interests you enough to become a born again Dashboarder too.


  • Excellent article. I love to learn about anything pertaining to Apple whether it be software or hardware. I like widgets to. I use Widget Update…a widget that automatically checks all your widgets to see if you have the latest edition of each one. I also use unit converter, Vazu…a widget where you can send free text messages to any cell phone in the United States and Canada, Sol…a widget that tells you the sunrise and sunset of any location, Local weather Weatherbug shows live temperature changes as they occur and is the best weather widget that there is. Hot or Not girls where you rate from 1 to 10 different girl pictures, Hot or Not sticker…has guys and girls, and Google Image Search 2.

    Keep up the good work Chris Howard and keep these great review articles coming.

    Mac_Man had this to say on Jul 31, 2006 Posts: 14
  • Hey Chris, what about Australia Post’s Postcode widget - i find it invaluable!

    But my favourite is sunlit earth - i have lots of friends and family overseas and its a simple way to see whether they are likely to be up and about or tucked up in bed.  and its beautiful…

    sydneystephen had this to say on Jul 31, 2006 Posts: 124
  • FYI: The Netspace Usage Monitor link is broken.

    Here’s a real link to said widget:

    Chicken2nite had this to say on Jul 31, 2006 Posts: 79
  • Thanks Chicken2nite. Fixed.

    SydneyStephen - I’ll have to check out the Sunlit Earth. Sounds really useful with so many people living on the wrong side of the earth. wink

    And thanks Mac Man smile smile

    Chris Howard had this to say on Aug 01, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • Chris,

    You know I love Widgets, nice article wink.

    I’ve actually started using the bog standard clocks a lot more now. Not so much to check London time but to check Boston, MA and Sydney, Aus times. It’s always nice to know what the local time for my Editor is - never know when an emergency e-mail needs to be sent eh?

    iPhotoMini is a godsend by the way - I seldom use iPhoto now as it takes too long to load for something so simple.

    Aaron Wright had this to say on Aug 01, 2006 Posts: 104
  • Does anyone know of a widget that you can set 4 to 5 different alarms that will make a sound on your computer when they go off? I know there are widgets with 1 alarm but what about a widget that has 4 or 5?

    Mac_Man had this to say on Aug 01, 2006 Posts: 14
  • Anyone savvy about a widget that shows sunrise and sunset times with an alarm for them?

    Dawn and dusk would be wonderful too.. optional.

    Ciao and thanks,
                Denis of Oz

    denisimo had this to say on May 23, 2007 Posts: 1
  • In the past month, the total number of widgets I use has literally DOUBLED.

    From one to two.

    I was using the calculator as my lone useful widget for about two years.  And then I needed to find some kind of render management for my Mac.  Unfortunately, support for 3d on the Mac is a comparitively barren wasteland.  But I stumbled upon Dashrender, which is AWESOME.  It cost $20 but it was worth every penny.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on May 24, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Denis, get two roosters. One from Iceland, and one Australian. The one from Iceland will be about 10 hours behind (the current length of the day down here) so will crow at sunset. After a while it will be so confused it will always crow sunsets, even when the day shortens.


    Or you could just get two roosters and set one 10 hours ahead. That’s probably easier.

    PS Don’t know of such a widget. There seems to be a couple on the Apple widgets site but don’t seem to have alarms.

    If you could get hold of the data, you could set up an iCal calendar for it with alarms.

    Here’s a site that has a table of times for Melbourne. http://members.iinet.net.au/~jacob/risesetmelb.html

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 24, 2007 Posts: 1209
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